There were many beautiful and curious things to see as my spouse Connie and I drove around northern Canada and Alaska this summer. We saw an abundance of wildlife including 35 bears, lots of antelope and mountain goats, and herds of buffalo. The snow capped mountains with fabulous sunsets were beyond imagination. There are just too many things up there to pick just one as a favorite. I do love seeing and photographing wildlife and I got to do a lot of that but still, I could never pick just one experience as being the best, they were all special.
Here in Yadkin County and every other place I’ve lived or visited, the most memorable part of any place is its people — Alaska and northern Canada are no exception. We met some very interesting characters on the road to the far north, a few are unforgettable. And a few make me feel totally uninteresting, and wimpy.
Like the guy that drove his 1924 model “T” Ford 3,400 miles from Iowa to Alaska. He was pulling a 1924 camper and planned to drive back at the end of summer.
Then I met a young man and his female companion who were riding their motorcycles from the bottom most tip of Chile to Dead Horse, a town all the way at the top of Alaska. His English was much better than my Spanish, but our language problems prevented us from determining how many miles that would be. I’m thinking perhaps 10,000 miles, with only 400 miles left to finish. But, they were doing that on motorcycles — camping in a tent — in a lot of rain — on terrible roads which were difficult even in a big mean diesel truck like ours. And, they are traveling through many countries some of which are crime infested with kidnappings, drug cartels, and poverty too bad to think about.
I asked him, “Are you not sometimes afraid?” He seemed unfazed and shook his head no, so I asked him, “When you get to Dead Horse, what’s next?” His reply, “I’m shipping the motorcycles to Europe, and we’ll ride all over that place.”
Connie and I were in a city park in Palmer, Alaska. I opened the door of the truck to get out at about the same time a woman came roaring (walking very fast) between our vehicle and the car next to us. She exclaimed in a loud voice that I was trying to knock her down with the door of our truck, it was obvious to us both that I was not. She had brightly dyed hair; dyed red, green, orange and blue. I loudly agreed with her that I was indeed trying to knock her down and it was her fault because she was walking too fast, then we both laughed hysterically.
From there a conversation flourished and she, Connie, her husband, and I talked for nearly an hour. She is 80 and her husband is 83. A few days later the four of us plus their daughter dined at their home. Besides having brightly dyed multi-colored hair, she is a retired employee for one of the major political parties in Alaska, an accomplished artist and cook, and at 80 still hangs her art in galleries. She was asked to remove some of her art from the University gallery, their complaint was, too much nudity.
And she’s not slowing down a bit, she attends political party meeting in Palmer and she fights for her beliefs with the vigor of a 20-year old. She continues to paint and cook with love and creativity. And, that great meal we had in their home was prepared by her husband, remember he’s 83, it was delicious. He is a retired Coast Guard cook and hasn’t lost his touch. He informed me that he intends to dye his hair bright blue.
In the Alaskan town with the unlikely name of Tok, I met a guy who was driving his camper across Alaska. His camper could probably scale Mount Everest; it was half camper and half military tank. This overbuilt camper had an Australian license plate which I asked him about. He informed me, in an Aussie accent, that he was driving his “out-back” style camper around the world, shipping it from one continent to the next. I asked him, “Isn’t that very difficult and a lot of trouble?” His response, “Sure beats the hell out of working.”
These people had a couple of things in common, almost no fear, and a lot of lust for life. They are inspiring; they show us that life is just out there waiting, and age is no an excuse. They remind me of a quote I read many years ago.
“All ships are safe in port, but that’s not what ships are for.”
Rod Hunter lives in East Bend and is an avid hiker, biker, photographer and nature lover. He is the past state chairman of the Sierra Club of NC. He volunteers as a court-appointed children’s advocate for children in foster care and with Cancer Services Inc. He is a two-time cancer survivor. He has backpacked in Alaska, Arizona, California, Utah, Oregon, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Georgia, Virginia, and of course North Carolina.